When I first set out to become a published author I never thought about self-publishing. I was of the belief that if you wanted to be taken seriously then you needed to find a reputable publisher, submit your manuscript and hope for the best. But I had just come from a different background entirely. With over 30 years in music (both secular and Christian) I knew plenty about the music industry, but nothing about the publishing industry. I had no idea where to start. I had already written one book that had languished on my shelf for years and was starting on my third. It wasn't until a good friend urged me to get the first one published that I started looking at how the publishing industry worked and what a writer was expected to do in order to get a manuscript on the road to publication.
By the time I got around to seriously sending it off to someone, I found myself overwhelmed by what was needed. I was so "green" at what was required that I almost felt like giving up. Songwriting was so much easier. You write the song, you copyright it, you list it with SOCAN (of which you are a member) who send your royalties to you and you're done (at least that's how it was in the 70's & 80's). Back then, I also had an agent and an entertainment lawyer (because a music producer tried to steal one of my songs that I wrote for the Lord and tried to turn it into a beer commercial - that's another story). My lawyer advised me to publish my music under my own publishing company name if I wanted to be sure of control, which he then registered. So I didn't even have to go through a publisher. I guess you could say I started self-publishing before it was common. The first time I received a royalty cheque, or heard that someone else had recorded a song I wrote that was played on the radio, I was over the moon. So I thought getting a book published would be just as easy. I was so wrong!
Suddenly, I was confronted with new challenges like query letters, synopses and proposals. All of them made me groan aloud with frustration and wished I'd just stuck to songwriting. The thought of going through my novel and writing a chapter by chapter synopsis took all the fun out of writing for me. And don't get me started on the proposal! The second writer's conference I attended (which I also learned were vital to a writer) provided me with new knowledge and determination to get that synopsis and proposal done. At the time I was ready to submit something it wasn't done online. It was by snail mail. So there were months and sometimes more months of waiting. On top of that most publishers only accepted queries from literary agents. My agent was strictly in the music/acting business and didn't have the time to devote to learning about the publishing business. So I was on my own.
As I researched what I needed to do I came across two services that helped in making the submission process a little less painful (keep in mind these are for Christian books only) - The Writer's Edge and Christian Manuscript Submissions. Unfortunately, I ran across a few questions that once again made me groan aloud.
Why did you write this book?
Now here is where I got stumped because I had learned at a writer's conference never to tell a publisher/agent that you wrote your book because God told you to. That is not professional they said and sounds amateurish. Well . . . the thing is, my story would not have been written otherwise. A series of life events brought me to a place where I clearly felt God directing me on what to write. This did not feel odd to me at all because this is how I had worked when writing songs. The Holy Spirit would direct me and I would follow. So, in truth I did not know how to answer that question.
What qualifies you to write this book? What are your credentials?
Again, nothing qualified me at all accept my willingness to obey God. My credentials at that point in time only applied to my music ministry and had nothing to do with the type of book I was writing. Yes, I had taken some writing courses. Yes, I was comfortable in front of a large group of people singing and speaking. No, I did not have a PhD behind my name. No, I was not a counsellor and no I did not have anything to offer besides my book and a few songs that at that point were really dated. So, at this point I'm starting to get slightly discouraged.
Do you have a platform?
A what? Next question.
What is your marketing plan?
My marketing plan? You're kidding me right? Isn't that the job of the publisher?
Can anyone say - Wow! What a newbie?
Suffice it to say, I received a lot of rejection letters. So I began to wonder and question if God really wanted me to pursue this "writing" thing. He couldn't be serious could He? He didn't really think that someone like me, who just wrote songs, could actually pick up a pen and start writing a story, did He? I needed assurance and confirmation that I could write and that it was something I should pursue. So I submitted the first chapter of a new novel I was working on for critique, at a writer's conference. The result of that critique had me floating on a cloud for the rest of the conference. A publisher got a look at it and liked it so much he asked me to send him a proposal. NO! NOT A PROPOSAL! That was like asking me to drink my own blood. Since the book was nowhere near being done and I had no idea where it was going, I politely declined. Yes, I know - what an idiot! But I had my confirmation from the Lord and that was all I was looking for at the time.
To this day, I have still not finished that novel. God took me in a different direction and led me to write different things. And in the interim I have learned many things about the publishing industry and have (I believe) grown as a writer and as a Christian. Although as far as grammar and the "correct" way of doing things in the literary world goes I am still woefully in need of help. I write like I talk and that isn't going to change anytime soon. Thank the Lord for editors.
So did I ever get published by a real publisher? Yes. I have had articles published and I have had short stories published by Random House for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I have been paid for book reviews by a newspaper who actually employed me (yeah that one surprised me) and I have self-published three books, all of which have won awards. Will I ever pursue traditional publishing? If the Lord wills it I'm sure it will happen. Right now however, I am content to self-publish my own books because I enjoy the process. I like the creative aspect of it from finding the cover to formatting the inside. The only thing I don't like is the marketing aspect and from what I hear all authors, both self-published and traditionally published have to market their own books. There is no way around that. There are pros and cons to both ways of publication, but if you don't know what you are doing and if you don't want to wait years for your book to be published (which can and does happen with traditional publishing) you might consider self-publishing.
However, if you do decide to take the self-published route you need to be aware that it is very time-consuming. You are no longer "just" a writer. Now you are the publisher. It is your job to do all the things a traditional publisher would do, from designing the front and back cover of your book, to formatting the inside, to sending out press releases, marketing your book and making it available "everywhere books are sold." Your time as a writer will be drastically reduced and you may even start to wonder if you will ever write again. In addition, traditional authors may look down their noses at you, thinking you didn't "pay your dues" and took the easy way out to publishing. Let me be clear on this - self-publishing is NOT the easy way. It is hard, time-consuming, expensive (or can be if you aren't careful) and not for those who aren't committed to making it a success.
Today, the market is gutted with self-published books and Amazon with their CreateSpace program and Smashwords with theirs has only made it easier to self-publish. That said, my suggestion to you is this - before you even think about self-publishing, go through the submission process with a traditional publisher. Write that query letter. Get that synopsis and proposal done. Submit it and see what happens. There is nothing quite like receiving an email that says, "Your story/book has been accepted for publication."
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both traditional publishing and self-publishing, but it is up to you as to how much time, money and effort you want to put into the publishing process. Here are just a few pros and cons to both aspects of publishing:
Traditional Publishing Pros:
Traditional Publishing Cons:
If you are convinced self-publishing is the way to go, then put everything you can into it. Don't do a half-hearted job which results in a poor cover and badly edited book, because if you do and people read your book, it will be the last book of yours they will ever read.